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Democracy, Elections and Voting

            Democracy is based on a participatory citizenry. The key to such participation is universal suffrage, which means the right to vote irrespective of one's national origin, gender, ethnic background, or race. Throughout the nineteenth century and a good part of the twentieth century Texas restricted the voting rights of many citizens. Legal devices to exclude people from voting included the white primary, which forbade African Americans from participation in the Democratic Party primary, and poll tax, which required voters to pay annually in order to register to vote. A combination of federal amendments, federal courts, and congressional action eliminated those restrictions. In order to vote today, one must fulfill two universal qualifications and several Texas imposed qualifications. The universal qualifications include being eighteen years of age and a U.S. citizen. Texas law requires a voter to be a resident of his/her county thirty days prior to the election and must be a registered voter thirty days in advance of an election. Under the "motor voter" law, passed by the legislature in 1989, a person can also register to vote when applying for a driver's license without even filling out a form. Convicted felons are not allowed to vote until two years after their sentences, including probation and parole, are completed.
             Although it is easy to meet the voting qualifications, relatively few people take advantage of voting in comparison to other Western democracies. One important factor in determining turnout is level of education. The more educated a person is, the more likely he or she is to vote. Another factor is voter's ethnicity. Anglos are more likely to vote than minorities. In 2006, whites accounted for 75% of voters, Hispanics 15%, and African-American 10%. Family tradition is another important factor in voter turnout. Members of families who consider voting as part of their civic duty are more likely to vote than those from non-voting families.

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